’50 years is a long time:’ NBC4’s Pat Collins will give up ‘front row seat,’ retire

With almost a half-century of TV journalism experience in the nation’s capital, NBC4’s Pat Collins likely could have brought his snow stick in from the cold and become a news anchor.

No chance. The 76-year-old Collins is a street reporter.

“When you’re on the street, you really have a front row seat,” Collins told WTOP in a Zoom call, which a more tech-savvy family member had set up for him. “When you’re out there, I mean you can smell the tear gas in the air.”

Now, after more than 49 years on local television, the last 36 at NBC4, Collins said he’s ready to retire: “50 years is a long time.”

Collins, who jokingly characterizes his career as “covering murders and measuring show,” has deftly and consistently broken local crime stories, mixed with zany human interest stories, told in his idiosyncratically halting — and often imitated — delivery.

The antithesis of a younger, stylish, made-for-TV reporter, Collins was a constant at area crime scenes, wearing baggy, khaki pants, with a notebook in his back pocket. Competitors (including me) marveled at his ability to nurse sources, who would provide information to power his exclusives.

“If they trust you, and they know you really care about what they’re doing, they’re more likely to open up to you, and tell you things you need to know,” Collins explained.

With both his serious and enterprise reporting, Collins said, “If I’m doing my job right, my story will hit you in the heart. It’ll either make you angry, it’ll make you sad, it’ll make you happy.”

And often, it would make you laugh.

Several of Collins’ more entertaining stories over the years have made their way to late night television shows.

One favorite included a story of a woman’s car that had been spray-painted to read, “Mike is a cheater” — theoretically, by a jealous suitor who mistook the ownership of the car: “Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike — see what you’ve done,” Collins deadpanned.

Perhaps most famously, Collins dressed as a bunch of grapes, while interviewing a high school student who had been suspended for disrupting a school event by wearing a banana costume.

“Suspended for 10 days? I thought that was outrageous. What better way to do that story than do it as a piece of fruit, yourself. So, we had a grape, talking to a banana. It was surreal,” he explained, in his best Pat Collins storytelling cadence.

Collins acknowledges — seemingly, to himself, that it will be strange to not spring into action when he hears a siren: “You’re going to have a great urge to get up, go out the door and run to the scene.”

“I probably will have that urge from time to time,” he said, verbally winking at the audience. “But, I’ll manage to control it.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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